Dance and Drama
The lifestyles of Balinese people is expressed in their dance. Not only do we learn about the Balinese religion from their dance creations but also we can come to understand the flow of cultural events and activities that belong to everyday life. We can discover Balinese attitudes, how they look at nature, and how they regard their fauna and flora.
The very essence of the Balinese culture is dance and drama, which is performed during temple festivals and in ceremonies. The dances performed in hotels is a small fraction of what Balinese dance has to offer.
Balinese dance goes as far back as Balinese written history with much of the heritage originating from Java. Ironically, as a result of the Islamisation of Java, the Javanese culture has disappeared but has still survived in Bali and has become part of classical Balinese culture.
Balinese dance cannot be separated from religion. Even the dances for the tourists are preceded by many dancers praying at their family shrine for taksu (inspiration) from the gods.
Dance fulfils a number of specific functions: It may be a channel for visiting gods or demons, the dancers acting as a sort of living repository. It may be as a welcome for visiting gods. It may be entertainment for visiting gods.
The typical posture of Balinese dance has the legs half-bent, the torso shifted to one side with the elbow raised and lowered in a gesture that displays suppleness of the hands and fingers. The torso is shifted in symmetry with the arms. If the arms are to the right, the shifting is to the left and vice-versa.
The story of the Ramayana greatly inspires the Balinese. Many of their dances are based on this great story which is often depicted in a ballet.
The Balinese version differs from the Indian Version. It is told that Rama, as the first son in a family, was the heir to the Ayodya kingdom but the king's second wife, through her treachery forced the king to crown her own son as the King of Ayodya and asked him to send Rama and his wife into exile.
Because he respected his father, Rama went with his wife called Sita and his beloved younger brother, Laksmana into a forest called Dandaka. Usually the first act of the ballet depicts Rama and entourage in the heart of the Dandaka forest.
Rahwana, the evil King of Alengka, enchanted by the beauty of Sita, wanted to have her as his concubine. He sent one of his knights, Marica, to temp Sita by transforming himself into a golden deer. Sita, captivated by her curiosity, asked her husband to catch the golden deer.
The next act explains how Rama succeeds in hunting the golden deer but as his arrow struck the golden deer it transformed back into Marica. Meanwhile Sita heard a distant cry for help. Laksmana, who had been asked by his brother to look after his sister-in-law, tried to explain to her that the cry sounds very suspicious. But nevertheless, Sita was convinced that someone was in need of help. So she sent Laksmana to look for this person and to help whoever it is. In his desperate attempt, Laksmana asked Sita, no matter what would happen, to stay inside the guarding circle that he created.
Rahwana, knowing that Sita was protected by the circle transforms himself into an old priest. He approaches Sita and asks her for a drink. Sita, without hesitation, extends her hands beyond the circle to hand him the water. Rahwana takes the advantage, snatches her hand and takes her to his palace in Alengka.
On the way, Rahwana encounters a mighty eagle Jatayu. By every means possible, Jatayu tries to rescue Sita from the evil king but fails and is killed by Rahwana.
Rama and Laksmana find the dying Jatayu who tells them the whole story of what had happened to Sita.
In his attempt to release his wife, Rama seeks the help from Hanoman and his monkey soldiers. Hanoman finds Sita in the palace's garden. She had been asked by Rahwana to marry him but she would rather die. Hanoman convinces Sita that he is Rama's messenger and talks of a plan.
Rahwana catches Hanoman and burns his tail but in so doing, set fire to the palace's' gardens. The pyrotechnics can be very impressive.
In the last act, Rama and his troops are depicted attacking Rakhwana's palace. Finally Rama manages to kill Rahwana and therefore takes his wife back to his country.
The abridged version ends here but if you see paintings in Kamasan style based on the Ramayana story, you would notice that in the last of serialised paintings, Sita had to prove she was still pure, and had not been tainted by Rahwana, by plunging herself into a fire. Because of her faith in her husband, God saved her from the fire and she lived happily ever after with Rama.
The Indian version reveals a very different ending with Sita saved by Mother Earth, never returning to her husband.
The Welcome Dance - Tari Panyembrama
The Panyembrama is probably the most popular Balinese social dance. In keeping with its meaning in the Balinese Language, Panymebrama is frequently staged to welcome guests of honour who are making a visit to this islands of the Gods.
Four or eight young girls bearing a bokor, a heavily engraved bowl made from silver or aluminium, laden with flowers, dance expressively to the accompaniment of vibrant gamelan music.
During the dance, the flowers are scattered over the guest or audience as an expression of welcome. The Panymebrama has taken many of its movements from temple dances, such as the Rejang Dance, Pendet and Gabor, which are considered sacred and performed exclusively for God. There is an analogy between the secular Panymebrama and the religious temple dances, as all these dances are welcoming dances, the difference being in the place in which they are stage.
The Tari Panymebrama comes under the Balinese classification of Legong (individual dances), because it has no connection with other dances, has no story and was specifically created for welcoming and entertainment purposes.
The hospitality and friendliness conveyed through the smiles of the Panymebrama girls, charms the audience and so is very fitting as an opening for a show, etc.
The Yudapati Dance
Yudapati is a dance which depicts a male character but is performed by female dancers. The word Yudapati is derived from Yuda which means war and Pati which means death. The dance represents the kamikaze warrior in defending the truth. The dance was created in 1987. It is based on the Baris dance.
The dancer wears typical male attire, headcloth, shirt, carved leather belt and other jewellery. The reason for a male being performed by a female is that the choreographer wishes to reveal all the subtle gestures and movements in the dance by using the flexibility of a woman's body.
Male dance performed by females is called Bebancihan. A number of other dances have been created in the s style, such as Margapati, Trunajaya, Prawireng Puti, Wiranata and Danur Dara. They require masculine interpretation and expression which is quite hard for female dancers. Yudapati dance was originally performed for religious purposes but nowadays is performed regularly as a tourist attraction in some restaurants.
The Ghopala Dance
This dance provides the audience with an interesting insight into the lives of people who live in a simple and pure manner in an environment of blissful tranquillity. This dance originated in 1984 and usually performed by five boy dancers. The characters of the Ghopala dance are especially funny and will draw laughter from the audience.
The Ghopala theme depicts the world of children herdsmen who gleefully meet and play along the boundaries of rice fields while tending their cows. Their lives are filled with happiness as they dance and play in a way which highlights their individual characters. They never tire of their duties as herdsmen, faithfully defending the lives of their cattle. Thus the audience are transported to a distant time when people lived in peace and contentment, an age which had not yet become influenced by the bustle of business which now constantly steals our time.
The Semarayana Dance
As we know, there exists many art forms such as music, painting, poetry, drama, sculpture, etc. and, of course, dancing is yet another and is a popular form of expression. Artists will take a certain aspect of a medium, build on it to form another. This is the case of the Semarayana dance developed in 1994 as a subject for a thesis submitted by Ms Ni Nyoman Sri Armita to the Indonesian Arts Academy of Denpasar for her graduation.
The main character is Dewi Chandra Kirana, a princess from the kingdom of Daha who disguised herself as a male youth so she could venture out and seek her beloved who had disappeared without a trace.
With shoulder length hair, commonly used centuries ago throughout Java and Bali, the princess was unrecognisable as a female. The symbol of manhood which fooled people she met on the road, was the use of the Balinese male headgear called the Destar. It is made from material that wraps around the head and has an artistic formation of bunched material at the front.
Balinese males still use the destar when attending ceremonies. The feature of the destar is the decorative use of gold lines.
Dewi meets her beloved but due to her disguise and the fact that he is partly obscured when they meet, a fight develops. In the ensuing melee, the princess's destar is knocked from her head and her sweetheart, Raden Inu Kertapati, recognises her and rushes to her side to embrace her.
And, of course, they lived happily ever after.
The Barong Dance
The are several versions of the Barong Dance, as Bali has an abundance of myths and legends. There is Barong Ket, Barong Asu (Dog Barong), Barong Macan (Tiger Barong), Barong Bangkal (Pig Barong), Barong Gajah (Elephant Barong) and others.
One of the well known stories on which the Barong Dance is based, is the Kunti Seraya. The plot is very intriguing, showing the effect of the Gods intervention upon the people through supernatural powers.
It is told that Dewi Kunti, from the royal family of Hastinapura, was very ill. As a devotee of the Goddess Durga, she seeks help, however, the Goddess tells her that the price of health is her own son, Sahadewa. It seems that the Goddess fancied Sahadewa's young and luscious flesh for her dinner.
Dewi Kunta recovers from her illness and it is time to pay the price. She regrets her decision to pay the price but a promise is a promise. One of the Goddess's followers put her into a trance and enters her body. She becomes a terrifying creature and unconsciously beats Sahadewa mercilessly. She then takes him to an unpenetratable jungle and ties him to a tree. Later Sahadewa is given immortality by God and she overcomes the wrath of the Goddess and she is able to release her son.
The Sanghyang Jaran Dance
The unique feature of the Sanghyang Jaran dance is the courage of the dancers who in a state of Kesurupan or trance, calmly step and trample on red hot coals just as if they were walking in cold water.
This dance is believed to have the power to invite the gods or sacred spirits to enter the body of the dancers and put them in a state of trance. It dates back to the ancient Pre-Hindu culture, a time when the Balinese people strongly believed that a dance could eliminate sickness and disease. The is dance is usually performed in the fifth or sixth month of the Balinese traditional calendar as it is believe that during these particular months, the Balinese are vulnerable to all kinds of illnesses.
The War Dance - Gebug Ende
The Gebug Ende is a combination of dance and trial of prowess. It is usually performed by two to sixty male dancers who dance and fight on stage in pairs. Each dancer/fighter carries a one and a half metre long rattan stick as as a weapon and a shield called an ende. During the performance the two men try to beat one another with the stick while using the ende to protect themselves. The dance is called Gebug Ende as it literally means beating the ende or shield. One cannot afford to make mistakes in this dance as otherwise injury results.
The Gebug Ende is quite unique as it has certain rules that have to be followed by the participants. Led by a jury, this dance starts with two dancers, while the rest sit in a circle, cracking jokes and singing, while waiting their turn. The jury decide which of the two contestants loses the game and has to leave the stage. Then they will call the next men to the stage. This continues until all have had a turn. Sometimes the fight becomes very fierce and the dancers get thrown of the stage from the blows of the rattan stick. Bruises and wounds are common in this ritual.
Legong Trunajaya - The dance of love and emotions
The Trunajaya dance describes the emotions of a young man through love and passion. The dance movements reflect the theme of courtship and love.
Truna meaning 'single' and jaya meaning 'to win' immediately gives an understanding of the dance. Ironically, the dancer are young women who take on the role of young men. The women wear a 'destar' normally worn by men and an unusual loin-cloth called a 'kancut'. The Trunajaya is normally danced by a single female but sometimes two, dancing together in synchronous movements and to the mesmorotic sounds of the 'Gong Kebyar', a fast, rhythmic beat which goes in harmony to the dance. The dance was created by Wayan Wandres, from Singaraja, Northern Bali.